Principled and effective aid and assistance place communities at the centre, ensuring that they drive humanitarian action. Accountability to Affected People (AAP) is the active commitment of humanitarians to ensure communities themselves have the power and influence to determine and act on their own priorities for preparedness, response and recovery.
AAP is grounded in the rights, dignity, capacity and safety of people and is built on three actions:
- Systematically sharing timely, relevant and actionable information with communities.
- Supporting the meaningful participation and leadership of affected people, including those of different sex, age, disability status and other diversities, in decision-making.
- Ensuring community feedback systems are in place, enabling them to assess and comment on the performance of humanitarian action, including on sensitive matters such as SEA, fraud, corruption, racism and discrimination.
In public health emergencies, community engagement is combined with risk communication specifically focused on the outbreak. COVID-19 has become a crisis of information. Combating misinformation and providing consistent and honest engagement are paramount for maintaining trust and public solidarity and promoting local action. Better understanding is needed in areas such as epidemiological trends, socioeconomic impacts or food security projections in humanitarian settings. Tackling these information issues will require the broadest range of actors working together.
A difficult lesson learned in disease outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies is that inadequate communication and engagement with communities in the planning and design of emergency response measures fuel fear and mistrust. Failure to meaningfully and strategically engage people, inclusive of gender, age, disability and other diversities, across all pillars of emergency preparedness and response can lead to ineffective interventions. It can even cause harm.
COVID-19 is a multi-centred pandemic: an outbreak of countless local epidemics, each one slightly different and requiring great focus on locally driven and multi-sectoral strategies. Just as the pandemic’s impact has moved beyond public health, so have coordination efforts. Coordination mechanisms that handle COVID-19 risk communications and community engagement are proactively engaging with humanitarian clusters (or equivalent coordination mechanisms) to collaborate and coordinate efforts and improve the quality of engagement and support for affected communities. Activities have focused on coordination, standards of practice, and measures that empower and support communities and community action.
The best people to engage communities are those with existing trusted relationships. Established local groups, including women’s organizations, with common cultural, linguistic and historical knowledge, are often best placed to engage communities – including those that are internally displaced. Local organizations require support in their efforts to access community engagement and accountability coordination mechanisms and the necessary technical information. These relationships will be key to controlling the pandemic, mitigating its impact, and feeding into a more robust and accountable global humanitarian response.
As a result of past lessons, Government-led, inter-agency risk communications and community engagement plans for COVID-19 have been implemented in almost all countries where there is a humanitarian crisis. These plans are often designed to ensure that messaging is harmonized and community feedback is systematically collected in line with COVID-19 country approaches. For example, in Colombia, through the GHRP for COVID-19, the UN and its partners supported the authorities with translating risk communication messages into local languages to facilitate interactions in a department where half of its population is indigenous. The overall response contributed to a reduction in active COVID-19 cases, in contrast to trends in the rest of the country.
In 2021, further efforts are needed to strengthen response architecture by ensuring that sociobehavioural data and community insights – disaggregated by age and gender – shape strategies for COVID-19 and beyond. It is key that interventions are planned according to emerging evidence. There is an urgent need to learn from local actors, front-line workers and the community workforce, who have pre-existing relationships with crisis-affected populations and speak national and local languages. There is a need to provide additional support to develop the technical competencies required to assess a situation, analyse data and plan actions so that they are informed by the best available evidence and analysis from local communities. This will help guide the strengthening of collective multichannel complaint-and-feedback mechanisms supporting responders to ensure that needs are met, course correction takes place, protection risks are identified, and communities feel confident to report cases of SEA.
- For more information on understanding community perceptions about COVID-19 risk, refer to: COVID-19: Community Insights from the Asia Pacific Region - Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Pakistan (September 2020), IFRC, OCHA and WHO; COVID-19 perceptions data from community leaders in Uganda, Ground Truth Solutions; “Data collected from crisis-affected communities to support more accountable and inclusive humanitarian response to COVID-19”, REACH; SUARA KOMUNITAS (The Community's Perception of Covid 19), a compilation and analysis of 28 perception surveys from various agencies